And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void to offense toward God, and toward men.
The moral sense, conscience, is the final arbiter. But of what is it that conscience does its arbitration? On what does it pass its exclusive judgments? On persons only. On things, never. The sea, the star, the hawk, the scorpion are as though they were not in the realm of morals. For them we have no condemnation; for them we have no claims. A pestilent fungus, a deadly microbe, seizes on your dear and only child, and by its dread vitality strikes it down to agony and death; but you cannot curse that microbe as base. There is no immorality in its act. The venomed fang of the cobra slays your friend, but you dare not call it wickedness. The stealthy tiger springs upon some loved one and rends him in the jungle, but you must not call it immorality. The liquid lustre of the sapphire — we do not count it virtue, nor do we count the sweet influence of the Pleiades as their character. We admire, we do not approve, the opal's melting colour; we dislike, we do not condemn, the unexpected acidity of the fruit. In them there is no merit, and there can be no demerit. But with irresistible impulse we approve, we disapprove of human actions. — Why? Because we know that they are the self-directed acts of persons with a knowledge of right, with a perception of wrong, with a will free and with a perception of wrong, with the will free and with a deep and mighty sense within — "I ought," "I ought not." If men were living machines no power in heaven or earth could ever make them moral. There might be beauty in their lives, but there could not be virtue. A machine may produce benefit, it may produce mischief, but it cannot produce character. If men could not help being good, where would be the virtue of goodness? Because a machine produces a superb fabric in silk or in paper is it a virtuous machine? Has it character? Verily not. You do not praise a summer because it gives you the autumnal wealth of golden harvest. You do not blame. You do not blame the lightning flash because it rent your parish church tower. No. It is man's moral personality that has made him sovereign in this earth and throws upon him a responsibility that, is awful; not compelled obedience even to right, but in life's unceasing conflict the choice of the good rather than the evil, the conscience before God and man unclouded.
(W. H. Dallinger.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men.